Midweek Bible Study Notes - Session 11 - How Important Is Prayer And Pastoral Care
How Important is Prayer and Pastoral Care?
James 5: 16-20
Outline of Talk:
* Recall your last study on verses 13-15, in which prayer featured much. We looked at (a) the praying individual (verse 13); (b) the praying elders (verses 14-15). This leads directly into the continuing emphasis on prayer in verses 16-18; (c) the praying friends (verse 16a); and (d) the praying prophet (verses 16b-18).
* The praying friends. This verse has been extended beyond its application by (a) Roman Catholic “confession” and (b) groups which insist that each member must confess all their sins to each other as a way of bringing “healing” in relationships. More often than not this has the opposite effect! Scripture nowhere requires an intrusive curiosity into the private lives of others or that each Christian must confess all their sins to others.
* The word “confess” here has to do with the confession to be made to the person (or persons) against whom we have sinned and from whom we desire to receive forgiveness. It belongs to the process of coming to be reconciled to those we have sinned against. James is deeply concerned with “fellowship”, which has at base the oneness of God’s people. This is why he sees breaks in the fellowship as akin to being at war (4:1-3). It is with this concern in mind that James insists on penitence, confession and prayer. Mending what has become “torn” in the fellowship is thus what he means by “healed” (verse 16a)
* In verses 16b James states that the “prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” The words used are not easy to translate, but the following points are clear and can be discussed further in your groups:
(i) prayer looks unimpressive and simplistic, yet it has access to great resources which are waiting to be tapped into;
(ii) prayer is effective when it is applied to solving problems faced in life. The words “as it is working” contain the idea of having an ability to get things done. While it is ultimately God who “gets things done” rather than prayer itself, nevertheless James insists that prayer is powerful and effective.
(iii) James refers to the prayers of a “righteous” person. This would appear somewhat intimidating to most Christians, if we think of this as referring to a perfect moral character and advanced holiness. However, James means by “righteous” those who by God’s grace have been given a status of righteousness – ie God has justified them. This is one reason why James refers to Elijah as “a man with a nature like ours” - ie he had flaws and failures just as we all have. Yet his prayers had great power in their working!
* The praying prophet.
* James says that Elijah prayed “fervently”. The words are literally “with prayer he prayed” and the emphasis is not on the fervency of his praying but on the fact that praying was such a large part of what he did! He simply referred matters to God! Nothing more and nothing less. This is all the more remarkable when we note the answer to his prayers – the fact that it did not rain for over three years was due to Elijah’s praying and the same is true of when the rains returned!
* We learn from this that prayer is a matter of simplicity and power. We also learn that all of life’s incidents, trying and comforting alike, are to be referred to God in prayer.
* Finally we learn that there is a close and important connection between prayer and patience (verses 7-11).
Questions for Discussion Session:
1. From what was said about verse 16a, how would you apply its teaching to the following situations:
(a) A neighbour who belongs to a charismatic group insists that we should each confess our sins in detail to one another in church
meetings, otherwise we leave out an important avenue of healing.
(b) A Roman Catholic friend asks you why you do not have “confession” in your church!
2. From what James says about prayer and Elijah discuss the following, including any actions you might need to take:
(a) Why James says that prayer has great power, rather than say that God has great power which prayer connects with?
(b) Is it right to say that “prayer moves the hand of God”?
(c) A friend in the congregation tells you that she is constantly concerned because her prayers are so poor and lacking in substance. What might you say, or do, to help her?
(d) A man in the congregation tells you that he would dearly like to become a professing Christian but he is afraid of being asked to pray in public.
3. James says that Elijah had “a nature like ours.”
(a) Each person in the group should try and think of one way in which this is true;
(b) In what ways was Elijah different to yourself. Each person in the group should try and think of one for themselves;
(c) What do you find encouraging in what James says about Elijah;
(d) What do you find challenging in what James says of Elijah?
4. What things have you learned from this session about:
(b) the church as a fellowship;
Next session 6th Feb- Is It Not Enough to Look After My Own Life? – James 5: 19-20